Tuesday, February 5, 2019

A Shout Out to the Bristol Public Library

I love my library so much.

When we first visited Bristol for my husband's job interview nearly 22 years ago, I asked about the public library. To my concern, the doctor with whom my husband was interviewing and his wife exchanged concerned glances. "It's up the road," they said, not volunteering to take me there, and of course I became even more concerned. I didn't need to be. As soon as we got a free moment we found the library, because I can not live where there isn't a decent library, and it was fine. It was small, and antiquated, and the stacks were dark and cold, but it had quite a lively selection of books for a town of this size and was clearly making the best of limited space. The staff, too, were fantastic. Still are. (Though I wish they didn't all recognize me. "I loved TWTSML," one of them said as I was checking out, not long ago. "What are you working on now? Oh, and your fines are up to seventeen dollars and forty five cents.")

Several years ago the library totally outgrew that old building. A lively civic debate followed about where to move it to--it had to be on the Virginia side of town, because of better public funding there (there's a branch in Tennessee); it had to still be downtown, near the shelters, because so many homeless people use the services there. Finally the best solution was simply to tear down the old single-story building and build a new two-store one in its place.

I'm there all the time. The Appalachian Literacy Initiative, my nonprofit, holds its board meetings in the large conference room upstairs. (We used to meet in the small downstairs conference room, but we're loud, and we were annoying one of the regular patrons, who's autistic and often uses the computers near the downstairs room.) I get books by the bagful. I shop at the gift shop (where else can you get cheap romance novels for fifty cents?) I've fallen sound asleep in the comfy chairs in the reading area, and the parrot in the children's department, Citrus, recognizes me and rings her bell when she sees me so I'll give her a treat.

Yesterday I went to peruse the audio/visual department. I'm heading to France in April to do research on a book I just can't wait to write--it's been bubbling inside me for two years--and I'm determined not to show up at the chateau that will be my setting as a typical monoglot American asshat. I had 3 1/2 years of French, in high school, centuries ago, but by golly in April I will speak their language at least a little bit without sounding like a fool.

Years ago, prior to another trip, I'd bought myself a set of 6 "learn French" CDs to play in the car. They're not wholly useless, but they're limited. I never understand some of the decision making that goes into these things. In the unit on "What I like to do" the choices are jogging, (in French that's "jogging"), taking a walk, or wind-surfing. I guarantee you that never in my life will I need to ask the French where I can do a spot of wind-surfing. My wind-surfing days, if I ever had any, are gone.

But anyhow, the time I spend running errands can certainly be usefully employed listening to French, so off I popped to the library, where I found another set of 10 CDs, a different company. Very excellent. That's when I saw, tucked behind the a/v department, our library's new adult learning center. Which includes a 3-D printer and lots of craft supplies. Mmmm. It wasn't open yet (I mean, that morning, I was there early) but I can't wait to go explore. I really want to play with a 3-D printer.

But then, because I was checking out language tapes, the helpful front desk clerk handed me a brochure. Well, heckfire. Turns out there are online language-learning resources available to library patrons. Turns out there's one program available to Tennessee residents, and another to Virginia residents, and as a patron of the Bristol Public Library I count as both.

Oeeee, howdy, these things are the bomb. Both are multifacted--you hear, read, write, and speak. Turns out my work computer, the same machine I'm typing on now, has a built in microphone, and it turns out that some of my basic pronunciation is lousy. Turns out I don't know how to correctly pronounce vous. Which is the formal or plural form of the word you and one of the more basic words in the entire language. The Tennessee program keeps asking you to say the same word over and over until you get it right, so I've just spent half an hour saying, vous. Vous. vous vous vous VOUS Vous! 

Turns out you have to imagine that the s is there even though you don't pronounce it. Kind of like how in Hamilton, there's a line, "Have you read thish?" where you're pretty sure they threw an h onto the word this, you can't quite be sure, but it makes you think they're saying "this shit" even though they absolutely never say the word "shit."

It's a little weird. I mean, clearly the s is actually on the end of the word vous. But it's a silent s. But not entirely. You have to pretend to say it without actually saying it. In the same way, s'il vous plait, which means please, is pronounced almost as though the first l is actually there, but not quite. I'd been dropping it entirely, which makes my computer beep at me and tell me to try again.

I'm also realizing how spotty my vocabulary is. I've known the word for cabbage, chou, forever, but only yesterday encountered laitue, lettuce. I'm struggling over beurre de cacahuetes which means peanut butter.

My husband walked in while I was muttering beurre de cacahuetes to my screen. He asked what it meant (he's had more French than I have, and didn't know either). "Do the French eat peanut butter?" he asked.

"Not to my knowledge," I said. For sure I'm not eating peanut butter within the borders of France. But, by golly, I'll know how to say it when I'm there.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Some of My Friends Got Phone Calls This Morning!

Phew, I just finished watching the web broadcast of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I didn't have a book published this year, which took away any stress about stickers and made watching a pleasure. Plus I'm so pleased for the winners. Some I haven't read yet--I'll be making a bookstore order as soon as I finish this post--and some are books I simply loved.

A Stonewall Award for Julian Is a Mermaid, one of my favorite picture books ever.

A Coretta Scott King author honor for Lesa Cline-Ransome, for Finding Langston, which I was privileged to review for the New York Times, and wholeheartedly loved.

A Printz Honor for Damsel, which was my personal favorite of all the YA I read last year, because it is so everloving fierce, the antidote to every princess fairy tale--and written by Elana K. Arnold, a friend!

A Legacy award for Walter Dean Myers--I only wish he were alive to receive it in person.

Such lovely Caldecott Honors, and then another win for Sophie Blackall, who also won 3 years ago and has been a friend since the night of the banquet.

The Newbery itself for Meg Medina. I haven't read Merci Suarez yet but I've loved everything Meg has ever written.

Newbery Honors for the Book of Boy, which I don't know but which has been recommended by several friends, and The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani, which I have loved since forever. It's Veera's debut, and it's amazing.

I'll tell the story, which I may have told before. Namrata Tripathi, an editor for Dial who now has her own imprint, Kokila, and who I've known and worked with and very much liked for a long time, asked me, just as I was heading out on a two-week book tour, if I'd consider blurbing this debut novel she was working on. From just about anyone else in the world, I would have said I didn't have the spoons to even consider it. I was busy; I was stressed. But it was Nami who asked, so I said maybe, and then Nami sent it to me electronically. I don't like reading books electronically, especially galleys, so I thought, well, maybe can certainly turn into no, and didn't worry about it.

But then I was in the middle of this tour, and I was on a plane seated in the bulkhead, where you can't have any bags by your feet--everything had to be in the overhead bins for takeoff. We were delayed on the ground, and I was sulking, tired, grouchy. All I had was my phone. I took it out and started reading the story Nami'd sent, because I don't have Kindle on my phone so it was actually my only option, and I was even more grouchy because I really hate reading on my phone's tiny screen.

I put my head against the side of the airplane, shielding the screen from the sun, and mentally longed for the plane to take off so I could get my real book down from the overhead bin. Meanwhile I begrudgingly started The Night Diary.

The next thing I knew was the bump of the plane touching down. We'd not only taken off, we'd flown two hours and landed. And now I was even grumpier, because I had to get off the plane, and I hadn't finished the story yet. I tend to get enmeshed in books but rarely do I get so entirely absorbed.

Three years ago--three years and 17 days, it was the 11th of January--I got a phone call on the morning of ALA Youth Media Day. It was fantastic. Today I woke up wondering whose phone was ringing with good news.

Congratulations to everyone. I hear Elana's buying the falafel. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Government Shutdown Harms Babies

For those of you (both of you) wondering Where in the Sam Hill I have Been, the answer is, wallowing under my deadline. Which is Monday.

I'm working hard, and well, and blog posts haven't been a priority. So far for January my priorities have been 1) trying to help my husband through his surgery 2) my manuscript 3) everything else.

I'm starting to put pieces of what I consider my normal life back into the picture. Tuesday I rode my horse. Wednesday I went to both yoga and my shift at Faith in Action. Today I'm writing this blog post. Go me.

We're in day thirty-something of the federal government shutdown, which as far as I can see is just a pissing match with no clear benefit to anyone. So far, to me personally, it's been annoying because I had reason to believe I was on the verge of my nonprofit getting 501(c)3 status right before the shutdown, and because I haven't been able to get some tax forms I need. (The IRS mails them out, instead of allowing them to be downloaded. Whose dumb idea is this?) These are trivial issues. Most of senators and Congressional representatives seem to feel that missing a few paychecks is also trivial, to the eight hundred thousand or so federal employees, many of whom are still working, just not getting paid. It's a nice life when you can imagine that a month without income doesn't mess people up, but it's not a real one. We need some real-world governance around here.

Meanwhile, yesterday I saw an example of the shutdown hurting some of the most vulnerable members of our society. A woman came into FIA seeking help with her electric bill. She'd never been there before. She was roughly 30 years old with a high school degree. Her husband walked out when she was eight months' pregnant with their third child--the other two are preschoolers--and isn't paying any child support. She had her baby two weeks ago and returned to work last week.

Let me say that again. She had a baby two weeks ago and returned to work one week later. At a restaurant. On her feet the whole shift. Because otherwise she'd lose her job. (Her mother watches the children.) (Here's a reason we need more women in government: because anyone who's given birth understands how inhumane that is.)

Her income--which is above minimum-wage, forty hours per week--is insufficient to their needs. Take away bare-bones rent and utilities--nothing more, not car expenses, not diapers, not food--and she's got less than $400 a month left. That was fine when her husband was in the house and working.

Given her situation--I ran the numbers, it's easy to do--she would be immediately eligible for something like $500 a month in food stamps, and WIC for herself, the infant, and at least one of the other children. WIC is a supplemental nutrition program that would pay for all the baby's formula, plus healthy food like milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables for the rest of them. It's a voucher program that can only be used for specific healthy foods. She'd probably get $300/month worth of food from it right now. So $800 in food per month for a woman and her three children.

Which she isn't getting, because she can't even apply for these programs because the government is shut down.

The safety net we have in place for people exactly like this--hardworking with dependent children--is on furlough.

You can't be pro-life and not care about this woman's children. You can't be against abortion and at the same time support a system that denies her newborn baby food. (I don't know whether she's breastfeeding, but I highly doubt it. Hard to breastfeed when you're working a shift job full time.) It's time for Washington to quit fooling around.